Some jurors grew so irate while debating the testimony of the career criminals in James “Whitey” Bulger’s trial that they shouted at each other. Others were so nervous about crossing the South Boston underworld that they popped aspirin to soothe headaches, according to one of the jurors.
For five days, the jury of four women and eight men pored over lengthy instructions from the judge, sheaves of evidence, and grisly crime scene photos.
As they deliberated whether Bulger had committed 19 murders as the head of a criminal enterprise engaged in extortion and drugs, the jurors struggled to overcome their aversion to several key government witnesses, admitted criminals who made deals in exchange for their testimony.
Juror Janet Uhlar, 56, of Eastham said she was sickened to hear from witnesses who were walking free despite committing several murders.
“It was a very disgusting feeling, actually, a dirty feeling,” said Uhlar, a nurse and author of biographies on figures from the American Revolution.
She added, “It really broke my heart to see that happening, to see what our founding fathers laid down their lives for, the judicial system, corrupted like that.”
Bulger was convicted Monday on 31 of 32 counts in a sweeping racketeering indictment.
The jury in US District Court in Boston found that Bulger had committed 11 murders, but decided that prosecutors did not prove he was responsible for seven others.
The jury was unable to reach a finding in the 1981 killing of Debra Davis, who was 26 when she was strangled in a vacant South Boston house.
Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi testified that Bulger had killed Davis, Flemmi’s former girlfriend.
The jury made no finding in her killing, largely because some jurors refused to believe Flemmi’s testimony, said Scott Hotyckey, a 47-year-old Framingham father who also served on the jury.
Uhlar said it was difficult to find Flemmi and other witnesses credible. She said that just more than half the jurors, herself included, believed that Flemmi, not Bulger, killed Davis.
“Some of us thought it was a crime of passion,” Uhlar said, noting that the killing happened in a house Flemmi had purchased for his parents.
Uhlar said, however, that the victims’ families should know that “ ‘not proven’ was not a ‘not guilty,’ ” but rather a finding that prosecutors presented insufficient evidence on those counts.
Jurors found Bulger guilty of killing Deborah Hussey in 1985.
Flemmi and onetime Bulger henchman Kevin Weeks testified that Bulger killed Hussey, while Flemmi was the sole witness to testify that Bulger had killed Davis.
The testimony of hitman John Martorano was also viewed suspiciously, Hotyckey and Uhlar said.
Jurors initially made no finding in the deaths of Michael Milano, Al Plummer, William O’Brien, James O’Toole, Al Notarangeli, and James Sousa, but then decided that the government had not proven Bulger’s role in those killings, largely because they doubted Martorano’s word.
“ ‘Everything Martorano says is a lie,’ ” Hotyckey recalled some jurors saying. “ ‘You can’t believe anything Martorano says.’ ”
Hotyckey said he was almost immediately convinced of Bulger’s guilt, especially when testimony was corroborated by physical evidence.
“There were definitely some jurors who could have settled this the first day,” he said. “But there were [also] very cautious people.”
The defense’s argument that the government was on trial also resonated with some jurors, Hotyckey said.
“We were made aware of a lot of horrible stuff” done by federal officials, Uhlar said. “. . . Some felt strongly that the government had compromised themselves from the beginning.”
The defense spent much of the trial trying to persuade jurors that Bulger was not an informant for the FBI and argued that Bulger paid corrupt FBI agents for information.
“It worked,” Hotyckey said of the defense’s strategy. “People were shouting about that.”
Uhlar also acknowledged that jurors raised their voices at times during deliberations, but said it was to be expected under the circumstances.
“I think we acted like normal human beings,” she said, noting the vast amount of evidence they had to consider.
“The deliberations, they were tough,” said Hotyckey, a native of New York City who had never heard of Bulger until the trial. “Everybody studied the law so long. I would say that [Bulger] was given the benefit of the doubt on every charge.”
Some of the jurors — who ranged in age from their 20s to 50s and included a stay-at-home father, an electrician, and an author — were so anxious about being on the jury that they wanted to be taken off, Hotyckey said.
They worried not only about whether Bulger still had any power to hurt them, but also about his former associates, such as Patrick Nee, a convicted arms smuggler who was named as Bulger’s co-
assassin in the murders of two men.
“People looked sick in the beginning,” he recalled. “I think they were terrified. People asked me, ‘What if Pat Nee comes to your house?’ ”
In the end, Hotyckey said he is satisfied with the outcome and the knowledge that Bulger will spend his life in prison.
Uhlar said that during the trial, Bulger “struck me as a tired old man.”
After they handed down their verdict Monday afternoon, the jury, with the exception of one who simply wanted to go home, went to The Palm restaurant.
There they finally released some tension, snacking on calamari and bacon-wrapped scallops and sipping red wine and beer.
“The job got done,” said Hotyckey.